2021 Cookbook Challenge

2021 Cookbook Challenge

One of my 2021 goals is to cook through the entire Skinnytaste Meal Prep cookbook. I chose that one for a few reasons. 1) I needed to get back into eating healthier. 2) I hope at some point to go back into the office, and get back into a real routine, and meal prepping is essential for that. 3) I love to cook and just wanted some new ideas to try- and none of these are that time consuming or crazy to make.

I’ve enjoyed trying some new recipes and flavor profiles. Some of my favorite recipes in the first 15 or so that I cooked were:

The Italian sausage ricotta frittata. I make egg casseroles a lot, but this was my first frittata where I cooked it in a skillet and turned it out. Very good!

The California roll bowl was SO good. I riffed on it, using shrimp instead of crab and romaine instead of cabbage…but it was a DELISH grain bowl and the dressing was so light and flavorful. It was also fun to finally have a use for the furikake seasoning I bought at Trader Joe’s.

These tostadas were SO tasty. I didn’t use precooked chicken, instead, we had brisket and shrimp leftovers, so I used that. But I loved the simple slaw and the combo of the beans and slaw and taco flavors. Would make again (but would probably just have in a taco shell because they were messy on a tostada!)

I’m excited to keep cooking through this book. There are like 130 recipes to try, so I’ve got a ways to go!

Chipotle Honey Venison Chili

Chipotle Honey Venison Chili

So, you could totally use beef for this, but since Tyler is a hunter, we always have venison.

I created this recipe for a chili contest at work. I don’t think I won, but it was well-liked! 🙂

The method is important here: sauteeing veggies, blooming the spices in the oil, a balance of flavors with salt/fat/acid. It’s different, but it’s good!

Chipotle Honey Venison Chili

Serving Size:
6-8 bowls
30 minutes


  • 1 T chili powder
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 2 tsp salt (divided)
  • 1 tsp instant coffee
  • 1 tsp beef boullion powder
  • 1 T tomato paste
  • 2 T neutral oil
  • 1 diced onion
  • 1 diced red pepper
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1 can rotel
  • 1 can fire roasted tomatoes
  • 1/2-1 cup water
  • 1-2 lbs ground venison (or lean beef or bison)
  • 1-3 chipotle peppers
  • 4 T honey
  • 1 T balsamic vinegar
  • Chili fixings (sour cream, cheese, chives, crackers, etc.)


  1. Start by sautéing the onion and pepper in the oil over medium heat. You don’t want too much color, but you want everything soft and starting to slightly brown.
  2. Add the beef and break apart into crumbles as it cooks. Shouldn’t make too much fat. If you have more than a tablespoon or so, pour it off.
  3. Mix in the seasonings (chili, garlic, oregano, smoked paprika, pepper and 1 tsp salt) into the meat/veggies and fat and cook on medium, stirring frequently, for a few minutes (until things are very fragrant).
  4. In a blender, blend the can of diced tomatoes, the chipotle peppers (for us, one pepper is Remi’s level of heat, 2 is great for the adults and 3 is VERY spicy), and 1 tsp salt until smooth.
  5. Add the cans of rotel, fire roasted tomatoes, blended mixture, instant coffee, bouillon, and water (to your thickness liking) to the meat mixture and bring to a boil.
  6. Once it’s your desired thickness, add the honey and stir well to combine.
  7. RIGHT before serving, mix in the tablespoon of balsamic.
  8. Top with chili fixings and enjoy!

My Perfect Cinnamon Rolls

My Perfect Cinnamon Rolls

Ok, I’m picky about a lot of things, but cinnamon rolls is one I’m VERY opinionated about.

I want them to be gooey and FLAVORFUL (no bland, dry rolls). I want the bread part to taste good (if I just wanted cinnamon sprinkled bread, I would eat cinnamon toast (preferably the Pioneer Woman’s method- very good). I want them to be decadent and worth spending the time to bake and calories to eat.

Needless to say, they are hard to find.

So early in quarantine, I saw my friends at Recipe Archeology (check them out- hilarious YouTube videos!) post some sticky buns. Now, I didn’t want that particular treatment, but the base seemed like a great start to a cinnamon roll. So I’ve been working on them the entire stay-at-home time.

I’m ready to share my recipe. (Process photos under the recipe so you can see how it goes.)

Perfect Cinnamon Rolls

Serving Size:
24 rolls
3 hours total: 2.5 hours prep (30 minutes cook time)


  • Dough:
  • 2 packages dry active yeast
  • 2.5 cups warm water (around 105-110 degrees, if you have a thermometer)
  • one box yellow cake mix
  • 4 1/2 cups flour (either all All-Purpose or 2 cups bread and 2.5 cups AP), plus some for dusting
  • Filling:
  • 1.5 sticks salted butter (very soft, almost melty)
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • cinnamon (I pour directly from the bottle- probably 1/3 cup?)
  • 2 teaspoon salt
  • Glaze:
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp caramel extract (or use all vanilla)
  • 1/2 tsp maple extract (or use all vanilla or double the caramel extract)


  1. Start by dissolving the yeast in the warm water for 5 minutes.
  2. Add cake mix, water and flour to a mixer (with a bread hook) and mix for 10 minutes. DON’T shorten this time. LET IT GO. The gluten in the flour needs to develop. It will still be pretty sticky.
  3. Dump it on a floured surface (I put down wax paper and flour for easy cleanup), and knead in some flour until it’s almost not sticky. Form a ball and place in a greased big bowl.
  4. Place the dough ball bowl in your COLD over (with the light on- that’s the heat you need to proof it), and let sit for 1 hour.
  5. Take the dough out (it should be big and puffy) and punch it down. Cut it in half.
  6. Take one half and place it on the floured surface. We are going to “laminate” the dough now (meaning make layers).
  7. Flatten it out by hand, then fold in 1/3s (sort of like a letter), turn it a quarter and fold in 1/3s again. Then do it again (flatten, fold, fold).
  8. Let it sit for 15 minutes, then roll is out into a big rectangle (as rectangle as possible, wonky is ok).
  9. Spread HALF of the softened butter on the dough, then sprinkle HALF of the sugar mix, and 1 tsp salt. Top with plenty of cinnamon.
  10. Roll it up (top of the long side down), then use a serrated knife to cut into 12 rolls (cut in half, then half again (4 logs), then cut each quarter into three rolls.
  11. Place in greased pans (I like to use two pie pans and one 8×8 so you get lots of edges), and let rest (either one hour at room temp or in the fridge covered for at least 6 hours). Rolls WILL rise and expand. Don’t crowd them. Repeat with other half of the dough.
  12. Take risen rolls and bake uncovered at 350 for 15-25 minutes (I know….that’s a big spread. Check them at 15. You want light browning…it depends on how thick you cut the rolls).
  13. Mix glaze ingredients well until powdered sugar dissolves. Will be very liquid.
  14. AS SOON AS THEY COME OUT OF THE OVEN, top with glaze. Just remember you will have 2-3 pans to glaze and divide it accordingly. Make them full of liquid glaze. Once they cool, it sets a bit

Here are some process photos in case you are a visual learner:

Sticky dough after mixing for 10 minutes-

Puffy dough after rising for an hour in a COLD oven with the light on-

Half the dough rolled out and topped-

Cut into 12-

In the pan before rising a second time-

After second rise, before baking-

After baking, before glazing-

These would be PERFECT to make head for Thanksgiving morning or Christmas morning breakfast. Just make the dough the night before and bake that morning! So good!

Quarantine Cooking

Quarantine Cooking

I’m totally gaining quarantine weight. I like to cook. Having unlimited time and a stress-eating mechanism, I’m cooking. A lot.

And it’s gooooood.

I’m attempting to watch my intake and work out, but it’s hard when I have the time to cook and bake.

For memory’s sake, here are some things I’ve put together.

One evening, Tyler and I got to have dinner outside together just us. I made us shrimp and grits, which was funny because he was talking about how he thought grits could be used on our ant piles. And I had planned on cooking some for us. We didn’t try them on the ants, but they were delish!


Weekend breakfasts can take extra time now. Enter these yummy homemade biscuits. So good.


For Passover, I made completely homemade matzo ball soup, even making homemade matzo meal. OMG. The broth smelled AMAZING while it was cooking.


Remi and I made these not pretty, but pretty tasty (and she thought they looked awesome) tye-dyed cupcakes with blue rainbow buttercream (her ideas). They were good!


She’s such an awesome kitchen helper. It also helps that she’s interested when I cook and bake, so we enjoy doing it together. Here, she’s using her flashlight to help me see inside my mixer. ha!


What have you cooked while cooped up?